François Hollande rolled into town for the World Future Energy Summit here recently, but hardly anyone noticed. There is little enthusiasm for his thoughts on clean energy deployment. In any case, in Dubai we prefer D-list celebs to A-list politicians. Just over a year ago, Kim Kardashian brought Dubai to a virtual standstill for two days when she opened a shop called Millions of Milkshakes, and bagged £125,000 for her troubles. But that doesn’t mean politicians can’t make money here. Local media reports that Gordon Brown earned £75,000 for a speech in the UAE last year, disclosed in the Register of MPs’ Interests. Not as good as Kim’s rate, but not bad. I get a call from Sheeraz Hassan, the owner of Millions of Milkshakes. ‘You seen that story? Is that Gordon Brown bloke still famous? I’m thinking of bringing him out to Dubai, what do you think?’ he asks. ‘He would probably come,’ I reply, adding: ‘I think he’s still promoting his book Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation.’ ‘No, no, no,’ says Sheeraz. ‘Nobody in Dubai gives a damn about that. I’m opening another branch of Millions of Milkshakes. The thing is Kim’s pregnant, she can’t come. There’d be 50 grand in it for him.’
To the ‘seven-star’ Burj al Arab hotel for afternoon drinks. The Skyview Bar on the 27th floor, suspended 200 metres above the ocean, has some of the best views in town — and definitely the highest prices in the world. The bar’s ‘27.321’ is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the most expensive cocktail on the planet. It is a mix of Macallan 55-year-old single malt natural colour whisky, dried fruit bitters and homemade passionfruit sugar. The resulting cocktail is then served over ice cubes made of water from the Macallan distillery in Scotland, along with an oak stirrer made from a Macallan cask. For good measure, it is presented in a Baccarat 18-carat gold glass, which the buyer gets to take home. I ask my guest, the colourful former owner of Portsmouth Football Club, Sulaiman Al Fahim, why it’s called 27.321. ‘That’s the price in UAE money – twenty-seven thousand, three hundred and twenty-one dirhams.’ Or £4,647. Just as well he orders Arabic tea.
I stop at the traffic lights in downtown Dubai, across the street from the world’s tallest building. The man in the car to my right is shouting at me. ‘What are you doing? What the hell you doing?’ he screams. I wind the window down.
‘You are driving an Audi Q5. That’s ridiculous! It’s a girl’s car! Shameless! You should be driving an Audi Q7.’
‘Thanks, but what’s it got to do with you?’ I ask.
‘I can get you a loan. In 24 hours, you could have 70,000 dollars. You could be driving an Audi Q7 by the weekend. Think about it, my friend.’ He throws his business card into my lap and speeds off. This, I should explain, is nothing unusual in a city where everyone has a job, nobody pays tax and credit is plentiful. Dubai already has full 4G: girls, gold, greed and growth.
And bizarrely, in an Arab city where less than 10 per cent of the people are locals, we all just about get on. Brits, Yanks, Aussies, Indians, South Africans, Lebanese, Russians — 180 different nationalities in total, running amok across the town. I wonder sometimes if Dubai has unwittingly created a better version of the United Nations, where everyone is bound together by the three common interests of finance, food and football. The only thing that separates us is the level of material wealth. ‘Enough’ is not a word that registers in any of the 14 major languages spoken. Sometimes it still gets to you. Later at night, as I walk into the apartment I just bought on the Palm Jumeirah, I am approached by a salesman from HSBC. I know he has been following me for some time.
‘How’s the new dream home?’
‘It’s fine, thanks.’
‘It’s not a villa, though, is it? Never too late, my friend.’
It’s never too late for anything in Dubai.
Anil Bhoyrul works for Arabian Business magazine.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 9 February 2013